Learning Objectives and Learning Outcomes – what’s the difference?

Most people wonder what the difference between learning objectives and outcomes are.

Well, there is a huge difference, and my this blog is about that!

In education, learning objectives are brief statements that describe what students will be expected to learn by the end of school year, course, unit, lesson, project, or class period. Thus learning objective on a larger frame can be called the program level objectives (PLOs). Each program will have several subjects, and each subject will have its own objectives or SLOs. Whittling down further, each subject will have chapters and topics, which again will have their own objectives (CLOs).


If worked out systematically, then all threads should join at PLO and the course curriculum will become well focused, robust and of a high quality.

On the other hand, learning outcomes are goals that describe how a student will be different because of the learning experience. Learning outcomes have to be MEASURED by assessments. This is difficult thing to do, because any measurement of an intangible verb of learning has qualitative and quantitative aspects – quantitative assessments are easier, and qualitative assessments are much more difficult to judge.

Most importantly, if we are ever going to measure the return on investment (ROI) in education, writing learning outcomes meticulously along with rubrics and assessment matrix becomes of utmost importance. More importantly, the learning outcomes will point to knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of the mind that a learner will take from the learning experience.

Here is a comparison of the two ‘confusing’ phrases – learning objectives and learning outcomes.

Feature Learning Objectives Learning Outcomes
Where will you find it in a course/module? At the beginning At the end of a topic, module or an entire subject/course
What identifies it? The verb. The scores.
Does it test the instruction? Yes.

It is a reflection on the teacher’s instruction.

No, not directly.

It is a reflection on the student’s assimilation (and indirectly on the instruction)

Clarity of goals? Yes, qualitatively. The assessment matrix/rubrics and the scores will measure the goals mostly quantitatively. (But sometimes qualitatively as well – for example project work.)
Should they be weighted? Yes, via time spent on the instruction. Yes, via assessment matrix/rubrics
Do they have levels? Yes No, not specifically but the assessment matrix/rubrics should take care of the levels.
Mapping with Program Learning Objectives (PLO) Yes Yes
Need for templates No Yes
Which is more difficult for teacher/instructor or even for curriculum designers? Less difficult More difficult.

Verbs used for instructions have to be weighted, and questions asked accordingly!!

Builds or measures skills/competencies? Builds Measures
Bloom or Gagne Bloom Gagne

(Plus Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels for scoring, evaluation of training programs and ROI)

Diagram 3

Importance of a Well-Defined Curriculum in an EdTech Space

I need to write about importance of a well-defined curriculum, especially for k-12 science in the educational technology (or ed-tech) space.

(From Wikipedia: In formal education, a curriculum is the planned interaction of pupils with instructional content, materials, resources, and processes for evaluating the attainment of educational objectives.)

When I develop content for the k-12 science vertical, I come across writers and instructional designers who have no clue firstly what to include (besides what is already included in the prescribed text books) and then (most crucially) where to stop.

Where to stop – is a tough decision to take, and can be taken only by a learning expert who is capable of judging and understanding the psychology of the learners. It is similar to sports: just as you cannot expect a 10 year old boy or a girl to run a marathon, similarly while meting out learning content to an audience – whether in self-learning modules, in a classroom chalk-and-talk or in a distance-learning (video lectures) mode, one has to be extremely sensitive and responsible to this issue of what is presented and to whom. And especially in science and math, because if it is too easy then the learners will be ‘bored’ and if it is too difficult then the learners will ‘turn away’, and who knows forever!

Personally I think we need to respect expert curriculum developers in these matters. Unfortunately, there-in lays the problem with all that is happening in the ed-tech space these days. Any and everybody (including people with no back ground in teaching and education) start becoming curriculum developers! And this is creating more chaos in an already muddy educational system, and confusing poor young leaners and teachers too!

In India what generally happens is this – we don’t trust the Indian board curriculum approval committee members (especially state boards’, where things are dumbed down for mass education for rural audience who learn in regional languages), because various strata of the Indian society is demanding different things from the educational system.

And that is reason why the ed-tech companies are stepping in!

So what is a well-defined curriculum? It is something that goes in steps:

  • A pre-requisite
  • Actual curriculum content (clear cut objectives, outcomes, assessments, activities, step-by-step enhancement of knowledge level imparted)
  • Extra resources – for those who are really really interested in the topic


What most ed-tech companies mess up completely is the pre-requisite and the extra resources. And when it comes to the actual curricula – they just cut-paste from prescribed text-books, add some animations, interactivities, and voice overs, that’s it! This makes an absolute ridiculous ed-tech product.

Here’s a quintessential case that I’d like to share – my writers were creating an activity on heat radiation for class VII students (aprrox age 12 years) and included something that said heat radiation was infra-red! Although correct, but how could a 12 year old kid know anything about infra-red? So what was the solution? We included all this information in the extra resources section. Further, when we were creating content for older students, we put this bit as a pre-requisite, and therefore could take the content to a higher level easily! This resulted in systematic, step-by-step enhancement of knowledge imparted and learning imbibed, resulting in great satisfaction of students and teachers alike.

Provide bite sized content and that will encourage learners to take higher and higher steps, and develop a keen interest in knowing more.

Ste by Step process of learning

I hope I am able to tell you about the importance of a well-defined curriculum in an   ed-tech space. After a curriculum is a like a bridge that we need to build, piece-by-piece, step-by-step, to attain enlightenment, is it not?